Nottingham Pension Fund Must Divest from Fossil Fuels

One of the actions of Nottingham City Council’s Carbon Neutral Action Plan is to campaign for divestment and move the Nottinghamshire Local Government Pension Scheme away from fossil fuels investments. This is why ahead of their Annual General Meeting tomorrow I submitted a question on behalf of City members of the scheme, and urged the Fund to commit to consult with its members on a divestment strategy and timeline before their next AGM. This is essential to ensure the long term sustainability of the Fund and to play it’s part in the prevention of catastrophic climate change.

The Pension Fund covers over 300 members including Nottingham City Council, Nottinghamshire County Council, the District Councils and many other organisations who are generally non-profit making, or are undertaking a service which was, or could be carried out by the Local Authority. It is controlled by County Councillors and the City Council has no voting rights on the Pension Fund.  

I know that the primary responsibility of the Pension Fund is to protect the financial benefits of the scheme, and now that there is growing evidence that fossil fuel investments are performing less well than comparators it is the time to grasp the divestment nettle. Currently Nottinghamshire Pension Fund holds at least £170m in fossil fuel company shares and has no investments in sustainable, low carbon or renewable energy equity funds.

Given over 1300 institutions worldwide have already committed to divestment, including at least 10 UK local government pension funds and a large number of UK universities and faith organisations, it is time for Nottinghamshire to catch up and  do its bit for a sustainable future.

You can watch the Nottinghamshire Pension Fund AGM live on Youtube from tomorrow at 10:30am. Further information about the agenda of the meeting and those in attendance can be found on the Nottinghamshire County Council website.

Covid Budget Consultation Launched By City Council

Today Nottingham City Council is launching a consultation on its budget for 2021/22 and it comes at an extremely difficult time for the people of Nottingham, the nation as a whole and the council. The impact of Covid has been and continues to be devastating in many ways. The health effects of the pandemic coupled with the economic situation has dealt a blow to many of our residents.

Nottingham City Council has had to make over £270m of budget savings since 2010 and during the current pandemic has had to deal with £28.4million of unreimbursed Covid-related costs in this financial year. Budget saving proposals total £15.6million.

These are challenges shared by most councils with the majority of the UKs largest cities facing significant budget gaps:

  • Manchester City Council – £50 million
  • Leeds City Council – £118 million
  • Newcastle City Council – £32 million
  • Sheffield City Council – £60 million

Smaller councils are also facing similar challenges:

  • Bolton – £40 million
  • St Helens – £22 million
  • Stoke-on-Trent £14.4 million

The Conservative led Local Government Association (LGA) reported that by 2020, local authorities suffered a ‘reduction to core funding from the Government of nearly £16 billion over the preceding decade. That means that councils have lost 60p out of every £1 the Government had provided to spend on local services in the last eight years.’

Despite this, the council has worked hard to protect frontline services that people have valued so much during the pandemic. During this most difficult time for our City the council has stepped up to support our most vulnerable residents and taken on new responsibilities ranging from getting every rough sleeper into safe accommodation to administering tens of millions of pounds worth of business grants to help small employers through the pandemic.

Thousands of key workers work either directly or indirectly for the council, from care workers and bin lorry crews to bus drivers and school catering staff. Our key workers have stepped up to help people through this crisis. We wouldn’t have come through it without them. But they are being let down by the Conservatives who despite promising to stand shoulder to shoulder with local authorities have failed to properly fund the cost of covid to councils. As the council has a legal duty to balance its budget every year a number of difficult proposals are being proposed including a reduction in the number of Community Protection Officers, closure of one leisure centre and rationalising the link bus network. 

You can read more about the 21/22 budget here.

Cllr Sam Webster,
Portfolio Holder for Finance at Nottingham City Council

Nottingham Labour Councillors call on Government to retain £20 a week increase for Universal Credit

Today Nottingham Labour councillors call on the Government to  retain the £20 a week increase to Universal Credit made at the beginning of the pandemic and extend the payment to claimants of legacy benefits who are currently excluded from the additional support.

There are roughly 35,000 people on Universal Credit in Nottingham. These are people that were already struggling before the pandemic and the economic consequences of the lockdown has made life harder for them. The Government was right to help mitigate the this hardship last year with an increase to Universal Credit payments of £20 a week.

Reversing this will hit those already most in need and result in more debt, more rent arrears and greater reliance on food banks for many people in Nottingham. As unemployment across the country hits record highs and incomes are increasingly stretched, it is essential there is an adequate support system for those that need it.

The government needs to urgently reconsider its planned cut.

Letter from Cllr David Mellen to the PM on COVID Tiers

Dear Prime Minister,

I am writing ahead of the Government’s anticipated announcement on Thursday, allocating local areas to the new tier system, to reduce the spread of Covid-19 in England.

It is clear that strong measures will continue to be needed once we come out of the current national lockdown restrictions on 2 December, to ensure we keep people safe and well.

However, it is vital that careful consideration is given to ensuring the right areas are placed in the right tiers. While we welcome the way the three tiers recognise that different areas require different approaches to managing the virus, we believe that Nottingham City Council is uniquely placed to understand the best interests of its citizens.

Last month, Nottingham was placed in tier 2 before being stepped up to tier 3, alongside our partners in the neighbouring Nottinghamshire County Council. At that time, we had one of the highest rates of Covid-19 in the country. Since then, we have seen a significant and sustained reduction in the rate of Covid-19 in Nottingham City, with 40 consecutive days of falling Covid cases and counting. We now sit below the national average for rates per 100,000 population and are ranked 121st Lower Tier Local Authority nationally. I’m sure you would agree this is a dramatic and impressive turnaround.

Our rate is now 50 per cent lower than when we were last placed into tier 3. We believe our sustained lower rate of Covid-19 should be reflected in the way Nottingham is allocated a tier this time around.

Our fall in cases of Covid-19 is a reflection of the hard work which has taken place, along with neighbouring councils, the police, businesses and our city’s two universities – as well as with the local NHS. All organisations have united in a shared response to reducing the spread of the virus.

It is also, of course, attributable to the efforts of our local communities, and their support in adhering to the guidelines and restrictions in place. We feel that people in Nottingham have worked hard to bring down the rate of Covid-19 in our communities and among our older population – and that our position in the tier system should reflect this decrease.

We know that ongoing restrictions will continue to have a significant impact on our businesses, our hospitality sector and our communities. It is vital the right decisions are made for our city.

We would like the opportunity to build on Nottingham’s successful partnership work in a way that allows us more freedom to reopen key parts of our economy: to keep restaurants and indoor entertainment venues open and to ensure our city can begin to reopen in a way that is safe, supported and protected.

I would welcome the opportunity to discuss this further.

Yours sincerely
Cllr David Mellen
Leader, Nottingham City Council

Letter to Chancellor

Dear Chancellor,

I’m writing to you in anticipation of your Spending Review on 25th November to highlight the chronic underfunding of local services and the potentially devastating funding gap caused by the Covid pandemic.

The combination of a decade of Government austerity and the costs of Covid means that Councils across the country now face appalling choices that cut right to the heart of essential local services.

The huge gaps in funding mean that all across England

  • the jobs of vital key workers are being lost, now
  • local facilities such as community centres, libraries, leisure centres and children’s centres are being earmarked for closure, now
  • those services upon which many of our most vulnerable residents rely are at risk, now

At a time of national crisis, when residents and businesses in our communities so desperately need economic and social support, the cuts that are coming will be catastrophic. I’m urging you to change course.

Even before Covid hit our communities and local economies the Conservative–led Local Government Association (LGA) reported that by 2020, local authorities suffered a ‘reduction to core funding from the Government of nearly £16 billion over the preceding decade. That means that councils have lost 60p out of every £1 the Government had provided to spend on local services in the last eight years.’

Over those years, Nottingham City has already made over £250million of budget savings due to year-on-year Government funding cuts and increases in demand of our care services for older people and vulnerable children.

The Conservative Chair of the LGA recently said: “Many councils were in a difficult financial position before the pandemic hit after a decade of central government funding reductions. They will continue to face demand pressures on day-to-day services – some pre-existing and others made more significant by the impact of COVID-19 – amid substantial income losses, such as from local taxation, fees and charges.”

Although recent additional Government funding to help with the costs of Covid is welcome, here in Nottingham we are trying to cope with over £21million of unfunded Covid costs in this financial year and a Covid budget gap of over £47million in the next financial year.

I would urge you to use your Spending Review to

  • stick to the clear pledge that your Government made, to cover the costs of Covid
  • give Councils a 3 year funding package so they can plan over the medium term
  • properly fund our local key workers, local public facilities such as parks, libraries and leisure centres and fund the additional demands on care services for older people and vulnerable children
  • help local economies to recover rather than impose yet more austerity cuts.

Yours sincerely,
Cllr Sam Webster
Portfolio Holder for Finance, Growth and City Centre
Nottingham City Council

New Council Apartments for Clifton

In March we announced plans to build new homes on unused garage sites to provide much needed affordable places to live for people in Nottingham to live, bring land back into proper use and help regenerate the wider area. I am proud that this week we confirmed that 36 new council apartments will be built by Nottingham City Homes in Clifton on the site of the former Southchurch garages, off Hamilton Court.

Nottingham needs a mix of all different types of housing and due to the high demand for homes for singles and couples in Clifton, these one-bedroom apartments for affordable rent will help meet the needs of local people waiting for a home.

Building, warm, safe, and energy efficient new homes, not only regenerates sites which are no longer fit for purpose, but also encourages investment, creates jobs and helps to support local supply chain businesses, which continues to be an important part of Nottingham’s Covid-19 recovery.

Cllr Linda Woodings,
Portfolio Holder for Housing, Planning and Heritage

Nottingham Businesses Let Down by Government Inconsistency on COVID

Government announcements made on business support during the pandemic have a real impact on the ground which is why it is essential that there is consistency, time to plan and timely, adequate financial support. The Government approach has often fallen short of this with a number of issues for local businesses that we have raised with Government.

Some of the issues raised with me and that I have found most disappointing includes:

  • Gaps in financial support for some businesses, charities, social enterprises and larger businesses as well as free-lance and other workers.
  • A discretionary business support grant scheme that was woefully inadequate and left many organisations without the support they needed
  • Last minute changes to restrictions proving to be costly and almost impossible to manageFunding going to businesses who did not need it while businesses that did need it missed out
  • No additional support during the phase of tier 2 restrictions in Nottingham
  • Announcements by Government followed by long periods with a lack of technical detail
  • Tier 3 only gave hours to respond to the changes required and a lack of definition of rules.

Most frustrating and damaging in terms of business confidence though that there is any kind of plan and forward thinking was the announcement of the second national lockdown only a day after Nottingham was put into tier 3 restrictions by Government.

The Government must remember that business owners have put their lives into building up businesses and growing and creating local jobs. Throughout the pandemic Nottingham Labour councillors  and MPs have been lobbying Government to protect jobs and save good Nottingham businesses from going under and I will continue to make that case on behalf of businesses in our city.

Cllr Sam Webster,
Portfolio Holder for Finance, Growth and City Centre

Tackling Child Poverty in Nottingham

Children are the most vulnerable group in our society and living in poverty has very negative impacts on children’s health, wellbeing and attainment. I want the best for all children in Nottingham and that is why Nottingham Labour councillors are committed to continuing to address child poverty and strive to make Nottingham a city where all children can achieve their full potential.

There 42,000 children in Nottingham living in families where no adults work or where household income is low.   Many children living in poverty are in working households, where insecure work, stagnant wages and insufficient pay is creating a growing crisis of in work poverty. Many Nottingham households have been pushed below the breadline by changes to welfare, which should act as a safety net, but is failing many Nottingham families, and cuts to vital public services.

COVID has heightened these challenges with the Child Poverty Action Group reporting that 2 out of 5 families have said that they fell into financial hardship during the pandemic. It has also highlighted inequalities with some children having the space, technology and Wi-Fi connectivity to continue their studies from home, while less well-off families struggled with children lacking access to learning and space to study.

The Council has already done lots of work to reduce child poverty in Nottingham; from our commitments to increase the number of children attending good or outstanding schools, to the work of Small Steps Big Changes and the Dolly Parton Imagination Library. There is also a well-established network of social eating projects, food banks and meal provision for those in our city that need it.

Nottingham City Council also stepped in to ensure that food vouchers were made available to families in receipt of means tested free school meals following the Conservative Government’s failure to respond to national calls. I am pleased that over the weekend after much pressure led by Marcus Rashford, the Government has reversed their position and are now providing some support.

In Nottingham we will continue to build on the measures we have put in place and lobby for the resources needed from Government to ensure every child in our city can have the  best start in life.

Cllr Cheryl Barnard,
Portfolio Holder for Children and Young People

Government’s Planning White Paper to Take Decision Making from Local People

As the Portfolio Holder for Planning I believe in the power of democratic planning to shape a fair and sustainable future for everyone. The planning system must operate in the public interest and should be democratically accountable and genuinely participative and must reflect the different needs of the country.

I believe the best people to make local decisions are local people and that the current proposals in the Government’s White Paper will undermine that principle. As was seen with the National Planning Policy Framework introduced in 2012 by the then Conservative and Lib Dem coalition, changes to planning by the Conservatives put the interests of big developers over the interests and needs of local communities.

Many residents already feel a democratic deficit when it comes to planning and I am concerned that replacing consultation on specific items with consultation on Local Plans (5-yearly Strategic Plans) will only make people feel further removed from local decisions. I also wait to hear more details about their plan to replace Section 106 funding with a Community Infrastructure Levy. There is concern that some developers get away with not paying their fair share in Section 106 funding and I am concerned that the new guidelines would create more exemptions for developers.

As a council committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2028, we know how important green space and biodiversity is towards that goal, as well as being important to people’s quality of life. Sustainability should not be seen to be in conflict with economic growth and the government’s White Paper should reflect that.

At the same time I recognise the demand for housing in our city with large numbers of people on the current waiting list. It is our experience that planning legislation and decisions are not what prevents us from building more homes for local people. Rather it is the limitations of borrowing against the Housing Revenue Account (how the Government expects council’s to fund council house building) and restrictions on the use of Right To Buy refunds, which means that there is insufficient funding to build homes, unnecessary restrictions on spending RTB refund money. Also RTB means council houses are lost at a faster rate than we can build them. Nottingham City Council has lobbied the government on these issues a number of times

Investing in Pedestrian and Cycling Facilities in Nottingham

Nottingham Labour has a long standing policy of promoting sustainable travel, including walking and cycling, and we have a history of success in securing funding to deliver these priorities.

COVID has made this more important as people’s travels habits have changed to short trips from longer commutes and people have been more inclined to get out into the open air through walks and cycle rides in local parks.

There is already an extensive cycle network in the city with 80 miles traffic free routes and 3 high quality segregated routes into the city. Recently we have been able to secure £570,000 from the Department for Transport’s Emergency Active Travel Fund which is helping us improve facilities for pedestrians and cyclists. Trial schemes are currently installed on Hucknall Road, St Ann’s Wells Road and next week on Carlton Road

We are also trialling low traffic neighbourhoods in the Arboretum and Derby road to encourage quieter streets that make for more pleasant walking and cycling. Similarly we are trialling the closure of  Victoria Embankment to through traffic to make the space safer to walk or ride their bike and it has been great to see so many families doing that.

This sits alongside our successful bid to the Transforming Cities Fund where we secured £161 million with partners from Derby and the county. £40 million is set aside to improve pedestrian and cycle facilities across the city. Our proposals for this cover four key areas:

  • Improving city centre connections and the public realm
  • Linking Nottingham, Derby and the East Midlands Airport
  • Improving cycling and pedestrian routes across the Trent with the addition of the new bridge.
  • Expanding the on street bike hire scheme which will also include E-bikes.

All of this puts Nottingham in a strong position to capture the benefits about what has been a real renaissance in more sustainable travel.